TIMOTHY OLOBULU / AIPS in KIGALI: Two goals from Meshack Ellia and a late goal from Jonathan Bolingi Mpangi were enough to hand Democratic Republic of Congo a 3-0 win over Mali and win their second ever African Nations Championship title.
Congo won the inaugural edition of the tournament in 2009 and Sunday night’s victory at the Stade Amahoro in Kigali makes them the first side to win the tournament twice.
Ellia produced a man of the match performance and the absence of his ‘partner in crime’ Herritier Luvumbu couldn’t overshadow his ambition to lead Congo through. Luvumbu, one of the best players for Congo in the tournament missed the semis and the final after picking up a serious knee injury during their quarter final win over Rwanda.
Congolese players donned t-shirts with a message dedicating the trophy to Luvumbu.
Coach Florent Ibenge said: “We put up a very good fight. We deserved to win. Our tact was to push them from the first whistle, deny them the ball and use the chances when we got them. It was successful. Winning the second CHAN title, this is phenomenal,”
Skipper Joel Kimwaki added: “We worked hard and deserved this victory. This is for all the people in Congo.”
Mali coach Djibril Drame who had brought with him a young squad, including four players from the Under-17 side that reached the FIFA U-17 World Cup final in Chile was not dejected despite the heavy loss.
“In the last tournament in South Africa, we reached the quarter final, but this time we made it to the final. That to me is a great achievement. It means next time we should go all out and win the title. I am proud of these boys, they have fought throughout the tournament and second is good enough for them,” Drame said.
On a rainy evening and a slippery pitch, it was very difficult for both sides to settle in fast into the match. It was particularly tough for Mali who were playing on a natural turf for the first time in the tournament, having played all their previous matches on synthetic turf.
Mali had to back to back chances through Mamadou Coulibaly but they could not find a way past Ley Matampi in the Congolese goal. The first effort was a shot off the edge of the box which matampi picked with ease in the 8th minute. Coulibaly had an even better chance two minutes later, one on one with Matampi but his attempt to lob the ball over him only saw the ball go over the bar.
Ellia opened the scores with a beautiful goal from the right in the 30th minute after curling the ball into the far post from a one-two exchange of passes with Joyce Lomalisa.
On the other end, Mali troubled Matampi again, Aliou Dieng striking a shot from distance which the custodian leaped to save, and also managed to pick up the rebound off Sekou Koita’s feet.
Mali came back stronger in the second half, just like they have done throughout the tournament.
Coach Drame pulled off Mamadou Coulibaly at the start of the second half, N’Guessan Kouame taking his place. In the previous two matches, Drame introduced Kouame in the second half, the winger coming on to change the color of the game.
His daunting runs on the left had already become too much to bear for Congo, Mali becoming increasingly dangerous. Lassana Samake was picked out by Kouame on the left, but Matampi produced a superb finger-tip save to turn the ball behind for a corner.
Mali were caught off as they camped in the Congo half seeking a goal, Ellia completing his brace after rounding the keeper. Yannick Bangala had slid him through with a neat pass, before the winger did the remainder of the job with utmost ease.
Congo sunk the final nail into Mali’s coffin in the 72nd minute, Ellia feeding Bolingi Mpangi with a good ball after doing all the dirty work skipping past his markers.
Earlier on, Ivory Coast picked bronze after beating debutants Guinea 2-1. Les Elephants coach Michel Dussuyer a former Guinea coach saw his side come off the group stages for the first time in the tournament and was pleased with a bronze medal.
Guinea will have only themselves to blame after losing two penalties, one in either half. A Mohammed Youla own goal and Gabgnon Badie’s second half goal saw The Ivorians trample through. Aboubacar Leo Camara scored for Guinea late on, but it was too little too late.
Kenya will host the next edition of the tournament ion 2018, and the country’s delegation, led by Sports, Arts and Culture cabinet Secretary Hassan Wario were in Kigali to receive the flag from CAF.